Benjamin Franklin, one of our most famous forefathers and a great inventor, was the first person to conceive the idea of a "Daylight Saving Time." (Many people today mistakenly refer to it as "Daylight Savings Time.)
He first spoke of the idea publicly in an essay titled "An Economical Project" which he conveyed as an American delegate, while in Paris, in 1784. His original intent with the essay was to be whimsical, by poking fun at the tendency of the French to sleep until noon.
The essay pointed out that if 100,000 Parisian families burned half a pound of candles per hour, for an average of seven hours per day, they would use a total of 64,050,000 pounds of candle wax. This was an immense sum of money that the city of Paris could save every year by implementing a Daylight Saving Time.
Although Franklin's original intent was to be humorous and witty, friends and fellow inventors were so fascinated by the idea that they continued to talk to him about it, after he had returned from Paris.
Then in around 1907, in London, a builder named William Willett was the first one to seriously try to persuade officials that setting clocks ahead by 20 minutes on all four Sundays in April, and retarding them by the same amount on the four Sundays in September, would be beneficial to everyone for getting some extra daylight time.
Willett lobbied mightily, and spent a fortune trying to convince others, but most just laughed at him. He died about one year before it became a reality.
World War I
During WWI, in an effort to conserve fuel needed to produce electric power, Germany and Austria began saving daylight. This was by advancing the hands of the clock for one hour from April through October.
This 1916 action was immediately followed by Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, Tasmania, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba. Following the lead from Germany, on May 17, 1916, England too passed the law that Daylight Saving Time would start on May 21.
All the clocks would be advanced ahead for one hour on the first Sunday of May, and retarded by one hour on the last Sunday of October. In 1917, Australia, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia also initiated Daylight Saving Time.
It is still debated whether this had anything to do with improving the efficiency of the war effort; however, the idea took hold and stuck. The United States soon followed, in 1918, although the Royal Meteorological Society insisted that the Greenwich Time still be used for tide measurements.
Post World War I
After the end of WWI, however, the law proved to be unpopular in the United States, mostly because people rose earlier and went to bed earlier than we do today, and the law was repealed in 1919. It became instead a local option, and was continued in a few states and some cities.
Today, Daylight Saving Time for the U.S. and its territories is not observed in American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It is also not observed in the state of Arizona; with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation, which does observe it.
The Navajo Nation participates in the Daylight Saving Time policy due to its large size, and location in three states.
Just as sunflowers turn their heads to catch every single sunbeam and get the most out of it, we humans have also discovered a simple way to save energy, and enjoy the sun longer in the summertime by switching our clocks, an hour forward.
England was the first to establish a regional time zone―a single time throughout a region―in 1847. This was spurred on by the railway officials as a much better way, to set a schedule for trains that traveled in and out of various time regions.
Prior to this, time setting was left up to individual cities, to deal with the matter as they saw fit, usually by solar means, and the same system was in place in the United States. As in England, the railway also wanted some standardization in America and Canada. So in 1883, the U.S. adopted its own time zones.